Two days into training camp, Suns coach Monty Williams was clearly sold on his new, second-year point guard. Jevon Carter arrived this summer in an unheralded trade between the Grizzlies and Suns that shipped Josh Jackson out of Phoenix and freed up cash for the Suns to bring their current starting point guard, Ricky Rubio, on board.
Through four games this season, Carter has played like much more than a throw-in in a move that served as a way to save some money. He’s cemented himself as the Suns backup point guard, playing just under 24 minutes per night behind Rubio and averaging 10 points, 3.3 assists, 2.5 rebounds, and, of course, 1.3 steals per game.
“He’s a dog,” Williams said. “He eats rocks.”
Carter entered the NBA after a career of terrorizing opposing point guards with hellacious defense at West Virginia and promptly became the most feared man on the workout circuit. No one wanted to deal with that while trying to show their value as a prospect, because they knew Carter was going to make it incredibly difficult to shine in a workout.
This reputation has followed him around for some time. Carter recognized back when he was a three-star prospect ranked No. 299 in his recruiting class by 247Sports’ Composite rating that defense could be the thing that makes him unique from other young guards.
“Probably my senior year of high school,” Carter said. “Senior year of high school I knew I had to be different. Everybody is known for being able to score, so me being different, I was like, ‘I’m just going to give it my all on the defensive end and see how good I can get at it.'”
He got good enough at it to be taken with the 32nd overall pick by Memphis despite having an offensive profile that didn’t leap off the page. The Grizzlies seemed to be a perfect fit, as you couldn’t construct a prospect that embodied Grit ‘N Grind better than him. Instead of getting consistent run, though, Carter played sparingly in his first year behind Mike Conley.
While the Grizzlies appeared like an ideal philosophical fit, Phoenix has proven to be a far better situation for Carter. The Suns’ point guard situation was dire last year, and while they remedied that with the signing of Rubio, they desperately needed depth. It also helped his cause that Williams, who the Suns hired to take over as their head coach during the offseason, wanted a tone setter.
On the first day of camp, Carter went to Williams and asked if the coach wanted him to apply full court pressure. Williams chuckled and told him to do what he does, wanting to fully unleash Carter. That freedom has been rewarded early on for a Suns team that’s surprised in the first week of the season — Phoenix boasts a 90.8 DRtg with Carter on the floor (per NBA.com) and, in what has been an unexpected but welcomed development, a 102.9 ORtg, showing Carter can be more than just a defensive stalwart.
Williams was impressed with how Carter shot the ball during camp, and that’s carried over to the regular season, where he’s made 10 of his 20 three-point attempts in the opening four games. While no one expects him to hit shots at that rate all season, if he can simply maintain being average shooter (say, 37 percent from three) at the guard spot, it’ll be a huge boost for the Suns given what he provides on the other end. The freedom to be himself on both ends of the floor has led to a confidence on offense that wasn’t there in his limited playing time in Memphis. Carter is comfortable in his role and knows he’s not in danger of losing his minutes with a bad play here or there, and that trust from Williams has been rewarded with quality play to start the season.
While Carter is off to a hot start offensively, he will never lose the defensive identity that he embraced in high school and had ingrained further during his time under Bob Huggins at West Virginia, which culminated in him being named the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year as a senior. Over four years, Carter showed steady improvement and credits Huggins for stressing the importance of adapting his game, especially as a point guard, to fit the needs of the team.
“He taught me how to be a winner,” Carter said. “Whatever it takes to win, that’s what you’ve gotta do. No matter what your team needs. Every game might be different, every team might be different, every year might be different. So you’ve got to be able to adapt and do different things to help your team win.”
Offensively, we’ve seen that to start the year in Phoenix where he’s become a more confident playmaker, both in creating his own shot and finding others. The Suns are second in the league in assists per game, moving the ball around in a way that we simply haven’t seen in recent years in Phoenix, where so much of the offense had been asking Devin Booker to do the heavy lifting. The result has been an uplifting of the role players, including Carter.
While he’s expanded his offensive game from what we saw in Memphis, the reason he’s found an apparent home in Phoenix is that he was the perfect fit for the Suns, rather than a need for him to adapt. Because he chose this identity as a defensive player years ago in an attempt to himself apart from other guards, he’s incredibly comfortable and confident in that role. It’s the role Phoenix needed someone to play, and he’s happy to oblige.
“I’m just going to go out there and do what I do, don’t try to do nothing extra,” Carter said. “I’m going to try and play-make, lead the guys, defend hard, and be that spark I know I can be.”